In his evaluation of the Red Sox farm system, which he ranked 23rd out of 30, heading into the 2023 season, The Athletic’s Keith Law noted that Boston’s “group of pitching prospects is one of the weakest” in baseball.
“They might not have a future MLB starter anywhere on their full-season rosters,” wrote Law. “The best of those candidates all have huge reliever risk, at least.”
One under-the-radar prospect who could help change this narrative in 2023 is Juan Daniel Encarnacion, who is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 44 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks 16th among pitchers in the organization.
Encarnacion, 21, spent the majority of the 2022 minor-league season with Low-A Salem before earning a promotion to High-A Greenville in August. The right-hander posted a 4.09 ERA — but much more respectable — 3.34 FIP — with 119 strikeouts to 39 walks in 24 appearances (23 starts) spanning 103 1/3 innings of work for the Red Sox.
Among the 14 Carolina League pitchers who surpassed the 100-inning mark last year, Encarnacion ranked third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.36) and strikeout rate (26.7 percent), seventh in walks per nine innings (3.40) and walk rate (8.8 percent), first in home runs per nine innings (0.26), sixth in WHIP (1.30), seventh in ERA, second in FIP, and fourth in xFIP (4.12), per FanGraphs. He also allowed the highest batting average on balls put in play (.336), which suggests he may have been unlucky at times.
Upon making the jump from Salem to Greenville in late August, Encarnacion made two starts for the Drive before the season came to a close. His first start did not go so well, as he surrendered four earned runs in five innings against the Rome Braves on September 2. One week later, though, the righty bounced back by tossing five scoreless frames and striking out seven in a 2-0 win over the Asheville Tourists at hitter-friendly Fluor Field.
All things considered, it was a solid first full season in affiliated ball for Encarnacion after he impressed at the rookie-level Florida Complex League in 2021. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier even wrote for Baseball America in November that he believed Encarnacion “already started to open eyes” in 2022.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Encarnacion originally signed with the Red Sox for $40,000 as an international free agent coming out of San Pedro de Macoris in Sept. 2018. Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the wiry 6-foot-2, 173-pound hurler throws from a low three-quarters arm slot and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of an 88-92 mph fastball that tops out at 94 mph, a 76-78 mph curveball, and an 84-86 mph changeup.
Encarnacion, who turns 22 late next month, is projected to return to return to Greenville for the start of the 2023 campaign. He can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time next winter, so he certainly could improve his standing as a prospect if he proves capable of holding his own against more advanced hitting.
(Picture of Juan Daniel Encarnacion: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)